Book Report: Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress (1993)

Book coverI bought this book nine years ago because the author wrote (or continues to write) the fiction column for Writer’s Digest, a magazine I took off and on for twenty years until I realized that scanning magazines about writing was not making me write more. Later that year, I bought Opening Nights, a novel by Janet Burroway, who wrote the textbook I used in a collegiate writing class simply because I wanted to see how she, and Kress, did with their fiction since they were also instructing about it. So I’ll probably read the Burroway presently if I can find it.

At any rate, Beggars in Spain is a science fiction book set in the near to medium term future of 1993. The driving point of it is that, soon, genetic modifications before birth will become normal, and one of the strangest is preventing the need for sleep. This creates a bunch of kids called Sleepless who eventually become smarter than their peers because they don’t waste time sleeping. Eventually, it comes to light that they do not age much, either. This creates a stratified society of super-productive and hyperrational citizens who carry a heavier tax burden than others, and the stratified society leads to some enmity between members of each class. The Sleepless try to create a Sleepless-only refuge planetside and then an orbital satellite where they can work, learn, and earn free of interference from the less productive sleepers.

The book is broken up into sections, each of which takes place in a certain year, and the years are separated by decades. The sleeper children grow up, but the Sleepless do not age. The main character, if you will, is a Sleepless who had a twin sister that is a Sleeper; it starts on their relationship as children and then the Sleepless sister becomes an attorney, which gives the book an in to dwell on the legal and ethical ramifications of what’s going on. Which she does.

So you’ve got a science fiction novel with Heinlein and Rand overtones. It definitely explores some themes, and it does so kinda wordily. The action in the book is overshadowed by the thematic musings, unfortunately. One almost expects the leader of the Sleepless to deliver a long speech to the Sleepers. But the thematic explorations are thoughtful: one gets a little sense of both sides in the Sleeper versus Sleepless philosophies, and one expects the ultimate goal is some Hegelian synthesis of the two.

In researching for this book report (by that, I mean when I looked at Wikipedia), I discovered this is the first part of a trilogy. There’s no real cliffhanger at the end leading to a second book (as a matter of fact, there’s no cliffhanger at the end of each section/year in the book that leads to the next), so I’m not sure where it would go from here. Sleepless in Space? Regardless, now that I’ve satisfied my curiosity in the work of the Writer’s Digest fiction columnist, I’m not eager to continue the saga.